24 September 2019
Dr Rajani Thiranagama’s Nation – Tamil Nation or Sri Lankan Nation?
Recently , I said to a Vaddukoddai trainee – that if she overrode the rule I gave her she would kill her job opportunity to that extent. This came to my mind when I read the Island’s publishing of ‘Thirty Years After: Rajani’s Lasting Impact’ - (Speech delivered by Rajan Hoole at Trimmer Hall, Jaffna, on 21st September 2019)
Rajani’s plight in many ways was/is also Jaffna’s plight. It boils down to the question of whether education is for a living or for life? Most of us start off with ‘Education for living’ as our goal. I myself openly declared when I was in high school – that I sought to go into the best paid profession. That brought me lesser status than those who declared that they wanted to be doctors or engineers. But my declaration was my needs based truth.
It was that truth that promoted me to apply my knowledge - for Life after I fulfilled my duty as a parent. To me, replacing ourselves in family and community to the extent they contributed to our development is a fundamental duty.
Dr Rajan Hoole states as follows about Dr Rajani Thiranagama:
[She was an academic extraordinary, not one whose fame owed to a numerical count of obscure papers. She wrote in the Broken Palmyra:
"In this sketch an encompassing view is attempted, within the framework of historical analysis. … [It] rather breaks into emotional and descriptive scenarios. This has been inevitable for us, as we are participants in the pain and agony of a nation. This sketch is attempted principally to bring out into the open the little known side of our nation (already people are adapting themselves to living with reality, pushing and smothering the pain into the recesses of memory) and the underlying causative processes and forces."]
The confusion to my mind is which nation Dr Rajani was referring to – Tamil Nation or Sri Lankan Nation. The following details published by Wikipedia shape my thoughts to form a relationship:
[Rajani was born in Jaffna, in northern Sri Lanka, to middle-class Tamil Christian parents. She was the second child of the four female children. She followed her primary and secondary school education in Jaffna and in 1973, she entered the University of Colombo to study medicine. At university, she became actively involved in student politics.
During her stay at Colombo University she met a politically active student leader from Kelaniya University named Dayapala Thiranagama. Dayapala was from a rural Sinhala Buddhist background. Rajani broke ethnic and religious barriers and married Dayapala in 1977. ]
That marriage is like the JVP and the LTTE living together in the same space. Hence the ‘nation that Dr Rajani referred to is taken as Sri Lanka where Tamils and Sinhalese coexist. More importantly – Rajani used the resources of University of Colombo and therefore owed Sri Lanka – the Common Nation. That contribution would have reduced the risk of premature declarations in public.
Dr Rajan Hoole provides the following analysis in relation to the above mentioned conclusion by Dr Rajani :
[As ‘pain and agony’ in the passage suggests, for Rajani, intellectual activity was entwined with our emotions and feelings, and flowing with these it gives direction to our actions.]
In my yesterday’s article I wrote as follows:
[Knowledge is processed at three levels. (1) Hearsay, (2) Intellectual logic (3) Belief. Likewise our intake of the outside world through our senses.]
Our expression likewise are at three levels (1) emotions (2) Intellectual (3) Feelings. For Dr Rajani to express feelings she needed to Believe at the academic level where there is no room for emotions. Dr Rajani’s marriage was between equals. But with militants – it varied between being junior and senior. I was very particular to leave Vanni when the LTTE indicated that it was going into ‘fighting’ mode. I gave my reports to UNDP – with a copy to LTTE chief.
I believe that by culture – I respected my elders and distanced myself from those who were disrespectful of their elders. I was in Vanni in 2003. The LTTE killed their elders in 1989. When we respect our elders – we inherit their mind-structure. In Academic terminology – this prevents plagiarism which confirms that knowledge has been downgraded to ‘substance’ level. Unless we do the work from zero base – we have duty to pay our respects to those before us before adding our work to theirs.
In Hinduism – we learn that one must renounce ‘attachment’ to identify with our soul. In Academic work unless one seeks and finds the truth from scratch – one needs the past work of others. Where we have knowledge of who said something we pay our respects by attributing that to those person/s. Where we do not – we need to pay our respects quietly to the Spirit of the issue. In Dr Rajini’s case – was it Medicine or was it – armed rebellion? Did Dr Rajini develop academic leadership or Armed rebellious leadership?
The following passage in Wikipedia gives us a strong indicator:
[Inspired by her elder sister Nirmala, then a member of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Rajani became involved with the LTTE, administering care to those wounded in action. In 1983, Rajani travelled to England under Commonwealth scholarship for postgraduate studies in anatomy at Liverpool Medical School. There she launched a major international campaign for the release of her sister who was imprisoned in 1982 under Sri Lanka's Prevention of Terrorism Act. She also maintained her links with LTTE by joining its London Committee to educate human rights groups and other international organisations about the atrocities occurring in Sri Lanka. While continuing to write and publish scientific papers, she also became implicated in grassroots organisations fighting for women's rights and against the discrimination of Britain's black people and became involved in the international campaigns of other liberation groups.]
The above is a common pattern with many migrant academics known to me – including those from America. They seek to be big shots in small kuttai/puddle than be small fry in the big pond. LTTE suffered due to such tendency which led to partnerships with the very Sinhalese they claimed to oppose. The actual opposition was soldier to soldier at their level. When it came to political governance – they carried negative genes due to their killing of political leaders who gave form to the Independence claim through the political pathway. The most serious one was Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. When one’s skills are raised largely through technicalities – the mind of the original discoverers of truth is left behind. Free Association with such technical cleverness carries the risk of our own mind structures being demoted to that level.
When the pathways are different – we need Separation – which prevents us from becoming juniors or seniors.
Dr Hoole states :
[The key to understanding Rajani as an intellectual is her compassion for the downtrodden, and those ridiculed and oppressed because of their birth. She was in spirit and action part of their struggle to emancipate themselves and was harshly critical of leaders who misguided and misused them. This comes through in her section ‘No More Tears Sister -The Experiences of Women’]
Those who seem oppressed because of their birth may not seem to be oppressed to their parents and therefore themselves. The Toddy-tapper village of Thunaivi seemed oppressed to me – one of Vellala / Farmer caste. I lived as part of that village but without deviating from my lawful pathway. They had their own system of justice – which usually was emotion driven. Unable to bear the insolence of the youth – whose mates stole our solar-lighting and the fence wires – I reported them to the Police. Our cottage was stoned. But I did have the warning much earlier during Pongal / Harvest festival – when they played loud music as if that whole environment was theirs. To my mind that kind of freedom came through militants who ‘stole’ the work of politicians and became possessive of their ‘freedom’ to express themselves – especially with women. This kind of disrespect for women – including their mothers was part of LTTE culture.
Dr Hoole presents Dr Rajani’s construction of this as follows:
["Unlike in the other groups, however, in the EPRLF, women were taking a more assertive role and putting forward clear, honest political positions in times of crisis. For instance, after the massacre of the TELO cadre by the LTTE, the EPRLF was the sole movement in the ENLF (the United Front of the EPRLF, the EROS, the TELO and the LTTE) that protested and organised demonstrations and other protests. This campaign was led by their women members. This position contrasts with that of the other members of the ENLF, such as the EROS who tactically decided to keep quiet and co-exist with the LTTE. Later when the EPRLF was crushed by the LTTE, many EPRLF. women were beaten-up by the L.T.T.E.. One prominent member of the L.T.T.E. had said while beating some women:
"What, liberation for you all. Go and wait in the kitchen. That is the correct place for you."
She adds, "Therefore the armed women's sections developed either in terms of "use" as in the case of the LTTE. or in a mechanical fashion, as a graft of an idea borrowed from other liberation struggles as with the EPRLF. Thus, the passive stand by the LTTE women can be understood, as the movement approved of them exactly as their society did. The fact that the EPRLF, possessing an advanced consciousness, was unable to transplant it in the community, is a general phenomenon in all EPRLF activities - in the armed struggle, the mobilisation of people and the construction of people's structures, among others. In every major aspect, the EPRLF exhibited estrangement between its theory and practice. Therefore neither our material reality nor our history had the basis to support a fully blown women's section in the armed movements. It is tragic that these women's sections themselves did not make any attempt to grasp their reality; an analysis of the position of women, the crucial social issues confronting them in Tamil society and women's history, would have enlightened them and cleared the way to laying down the fundamental tasks and priorities."]
The statement "What, liberation for you all. Go and wait in the kitchen. That is the correct place for you." confirms that women power which was a minority power within Armed groups – led by LTTE – was a ‘substance’ that men could use for their own purposes and then throw away. This was seriously disrespectful of Northern Tamils from whom we inherited Thesawalamai law. The parallel of this demotion in the civilian Tamil society is demoting dowry to ‘donation’ and therefore ‘trading value’. To the extent mothers contributed to their children’s education – militants who were disrespectful of women were disrespectful of Education itself. This was apparent in Mr Velupillai Thangavelu in relation to Mr Wigneswaran whom he treated as his junior. It is significant that the former lives in Canada and the latter in Sri Lanka’s North.
Like Dr Rajani – Mr Wigneswaran also demoted himself in the name of service. Unless we renounce the titles that give us the status – we confirm imprisonment in that system – but at the lower level where the outcomes are visible. In the case of Mr Wigneswaran it is his status as Justice and in the case of Dr Rajani – it was her status as an Academic. Both suffered due to duality which eventually leads to bipolar tendencies. Gandhi renounced the higher benefits including status as an educated person. Hence he became one of the junior castes who were ‘abused’ by the rulers. That renunciation made Gandhi eligible for the support of Divine powers of masses.
In contrast – I had duty to Jaffna and if I had stayed on in Thunaivi – I would have failed to replace myself in Jaffna – especially through education. It is significant that Rajani who studied at Jaffna College – Vaddukoddai and whose father was Vice Principal of Jaffna College is not known at all in Thunaivi – where most of the folks of her generation did not go past primary school. Knowing those folks as if they were a part of me - I am not surprised that Dr Rajani was killed by LTTE. They – the academic and the militant were both Rajani. One killed the other – the same way SWRD Bandaranaike was killed and indeed Gandhi was by a Hindu.
Academic heritage should not be used for military purposes. This is the risk Sri Lanka faces if Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa became President. Those who seek to enjoy freedom at the higher level – need to separate themselves from the benefits of that presidency. Otherwise we would have the parallel of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which happened through Indian influence using Mr Varatharaja Perumal – who was recognized as Indian Tamil. Dr Hoole presents Dr Rajani’s insight into this as follows:
[She saw India historically as a would-be superpower, whose limits were defined by other actors:
"The Indian Tamil labour who built up the plantation sector … were simply grafted on to Sri Lankan society by their colonial masters and were rejected as aliens by the local population. … [Post independence] they were disenfranchised and became the most exploited and oppressed social group within the country … the growing contradiction between the local subsistence agriculture and the plantation sector manifested itself in the most fierce antagonism towards this under privileged group. Unscrupulous political elements used this contradiction to their advantage by portraying this dispossessed poverty stricken group as an arm of Indian expansionism. Even opposition to Indian supremacy in the region was expressed by victimising this minority group."]
Whether it is caste, race or gender – minorities who are supported by strong ancestral powers – would invoke divine powers that are Absolute in value. Each group works best in its own environment. Hence we need firm separations of powers to successfully merge instead of assimilating and becoming juniors.
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